Hungary made few political headlines in the first two decades since it became part of the Western bloc in 1990…
Book review by Karl Pfeifer, Harry’s Place
This has fundamentally changed during the last two years after the election victory of the rightwing nationalistic Fidesz party. Paul Lendvai not only has the advantage of having Hungarian roots; he is a leading Austrian journalist and lives next to the country of his origins.
In Hungary: Between Democracy and Authoritarianism, he documents how nationalism, ethnic hatred, deeply-rooted corruption and authoritarian tendencies have changed Hungary during the last 23 years and describes factually and objectively, without any Schadenfreude or “I told you so”, how and why clericalism and ethnic nationalism were reborn.
In the chapter “József Antall – a Political Phenomenon” he explains how a 57-year old medical historian, whose name was known only to one Hungarian in three, managed to win a landslide election victory in the spring of 1990.
“The roots of Hungarian anti-Semitism” is a thorough analysis of a consistently denied mainstream phenomena, where he writes that “the history atlas prescribed for use in the 2009 school-leaving exams does not once mention the [anti-]Jewish laws, the Holocaust and the deportations… All governments after the 1989 change of regime have been responsible for the failure of the entire educational system.”
History always repeats itself: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce. As far as the Roma population is concerned, it is a bloody farce.
Not since the first phase of the Kádár regime in 1956, with its persecution of freedom fighters, has a Hungarian government ever had such a poor reputation. This is very much due to Viktor Orbán, who rules supreme over his Fidesz party: “[…] for him, still only 49, leadership embodies the traditional, patriarchal way of thinking and the ingrained attitudes of crowds, hundreds of thousands strong, drawn from the Hungarian countryside. Hungary is on its way to become a one party state. The writer György Konrád sees Hungary as ‘a junk country, with a junk administration and a junk prime minister’.”
Lendvai writes: “Hungary too has to come to terms with the bitter lessons of history.” Unsurprisingly Lendvai has now become himself the target of vicious personal attacks in rightwing Fidesz media.
This vivid history of Hungary after the end of communist rule is a must-read for anybody interested in understanding how easily liberal democracy in central Europe can be rolled back.
Paul Lendvai, Hungary: Between Democracy and Authoritarianism, Columbia Univ. Pr. 2012, Euro 32,99, Order?